Expert's Panel

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    What are legal and good practices for collecting competitive information? Also that which is beyond the public domain- what are the channels and methods to justify the acquisition of this information?

  1. First place is ex-employees. Ask them if they signed a piece of paper saying they won't reveal anything about their previous employer or business. If they say yes, thank them and don't go any further. The second best source is to go to a networked friend or associate who is in the right business and knows about the competitor. The third best is to find some people who are tangent to the competitor's business. Take each of these sources out to lunch or for a cup of coffee. Sharpen your interviewing skills-read some books-there are good ways to get people to open up and reveal information that they might not have revealed under other circumstances.
  2. Your field service people are likely in the facility where the competitor's equipment is installed. Ask them to keep their eyes and ears open- they often pick up meaningful information about the pros and cons of the competitive products. Do NOT ask them to ever touch the competitor's equipment or to bad mouth the competitor.
  3. We did a face-to-face design survey with all of our existing and previous customers. We were a large enough company to get their interest; otherwise this might not have worked. Our product marketing people went out, asking questions about what was going to be needed in 3 to 4 years. Under these circumstances you always ask questions like, "What features do you see on our competitor's equipment that we should be thinking about?" This is a nice way of opening up the customer about the competitor. You can even ask that question, of the audience, during technical presentations.
  4. Attending meetings of Users Groups and Standards Meetings in the industry can give you a wealth of information. Listen carefully to not only the presenters, but questions from the audience.
  5. One of the best places for good information in the semiconductor industry is the SEMATECH AEC-APC conference in the U.S. The quality of people is excellent. These are the folks that are dealing with real problems. You'll find the IBMs and the INTELs represented. The dialogue that goes on is superb if you are dealing with some type of control- a product that interfaces with a fab tool. There will be excellent networking and excellent knowledge unfolding.